Friday, October 15, 2010

Natural disasters - from God or because of us?

1) Parents’ weekend (Oct 15-17)
Saturday: Open House at Newman Center, 12 noon – 3 pm
Sunday: 11 am Mass (St Stephen’s) – juice and donuts after Mass

2) “Life with Mother Teresa” – talk by Sandy McMurtrie after Tuesday dinner (10/19)
In response to my post, “Why does God allow evil?” (11/6/09), “Mamamia” wrote: “Hi Father Greg, I'm not a GW student, but was searching the web for the answer to the this question to see what I would find. I fully agree with and understand your explanation, but I was wondering about natural disasters... hurricanes and volcanos and tsunamis and such that destroy so many lives and cause so much suffering to both good and bad alike... Does God will that suffering on us in order to make us stronger as some say? Or are natural disasters simply a result of Original Sin? Or are they just scientifically necessary in order to keep creation in balance and sometimes we just get in the way? Thank you so much!!”

Mamamia, thanks for your questions. They are tough ones! I have always understood that natural disasters (natural evil) are the results of Original Sin. The Catechism (#400) teaches that one of the results of man’s first sin is that “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation is hostile to man. (cf. Gen 3:17, 19). Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:21)”. In other words, the harmony and order of creation has become discord and disorder because of Original Sin.

St Paul also writes that “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23). This point is elicited in the following column from the USCCB site by Bishop Wenski. It is the best online article I could find related to your questions. First, he opines that natural disasters “can suggest that our planet itself is ‘in rebellion’ against the original order of a loving Creator God” which adds clarity to their genesis (man, not God). Then, he makes St. Paul’s point from Romans 8:22-23 - the connection between evil in the world and evil in the heart of man: “And that rebellion seen in nature – from the perspective of faith – can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart”.

Bishop Wenski's Column
September 2005

Hurricane Katrina wrought unprecedented physical devastation and human misery. The storm and its aftermath have created a world of pain on our nation’s gulf coast in an area larger than Great Britain . Those of us that suffered the three storms that crisscrossed our communities last year can easily empathize with the victims of this year’s storms. We will, with the rest of the nation, reach out in solidarity to those tried so sorely by the worst natural disaster in our country’s history to meet both their immediate needs and to help them rebuild. And we pray for the survivors – and for those who did not.

When faced with our misfortunes or those of others, we can be tempted to ask ourselves: what did we do or what did these people do to deserve this? Once in His ministry Jesus spoke of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed. And He spoke of those killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed. (Luke 13: 1-9) Jesus warns us not to see these events as somehow the wrath of an angry God. Evil came into the world not by God’s willing it; but through the devil and human sin. Jesus says in the Gospel: Don’t think that those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than any one else.

The tragedies that Jesus spoke about – whether man made or acts of nature – are as contemporary as our morning newspaper. Each day, we read about victims of war or poverty. Each day, we can see on our T.V. screens those displaced by natural disasters – whether these disasters occurred just up the road like Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina or in far away lands like the Tsunami last year.

Today – and, indeed, from the beginning of our exile from Eden , - we experience this world as a “valley of tears.” We live in a fallen and thus imperfect world. And oftentimes the forces of nature – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters – can suggest that our planet itself is “in rebellion” against the original order of a loving Creator God. And that rebellion seen in nature – from the perspective of faith – can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart.

Of course, many times, we do suffer because of our bad choices. The scriptures do say: the wages of sin is death. And, in one way, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who lost for themselves and for us the original blessings of Paradise, we experience that rebellion of nature because of their bad choice – their original sin of turning away from God which made all of creation “subject to futility” (Romans 8:20).

But as followers of Jesus we cannot rush to blame victims for the evil visited upon them – nor can we blame God, whom Scripture reveals as all loving and all merciful. That doesn’t mean we will come to an easy understanding of why bad things happen to good people – most times we will have to wait with the patience of a Job to learn the answers to those questions – which God will tell us surely; but not necessarily on this side of heaven.

Jesus however does give us an insight on how God deals with the tragedies that afflict us. God does not remain remote from or indifferent to the plight of his fallen creation. In Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man. Rather than distancing Himself from people and their tragedies, He draws close to them. From the Cross, He stands in solidarity with all the pain experience by us in our fallenness. Despair, destruction, death will not have the last word: rather the transformative power of his resurrection will define the human project anchored in hope.

One of the most compelling scenes of the Gospel is that of Jesus being awaken in the boat by his frightened apostles in the midst of a storm (Matthew 8: 23-27). Jesus calms the storm by rebuking the rain and the wind; but, He also rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.

Two months remain of this year’s hurricane season. For these two months and certainly for years to come, we will be understandably more anxious every time a new tropical depression forms off the West African coast. Like the apostles, in our fear we cry out: “Save us, Lord.”

Yes, we rightly pray that God may spare us from nature’s fury. But, in the face of trial and tribulation, we also ask God to strengthen our faith by calming the storms of anxiety and fear that rage within our hearts. We know that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, the many acts of solidarity – of neighbor helping neighbor – are eloquent witness to what God’s Providence inspires in the hearts of men and women of good will. Strengthened in faith, we will not be overcome by any adversity but will overcome evil – whether physical or moral – with good.

Here's a related video (yes, a video on this blog!) from Fr. Barron as found on YouTube:

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